Note: This is a review I wrote a couple of years ago when I was buying a new travel backpack. Since I'm in the market again, I thought I'd bring this one over from my old blog with an update before I add reviews of newer bags. This one is still available from InCase under the name ICON Lite. At the end, I've added an update with what I liked or disliked over time.
I do a fair amount of travel by air or rail, and I usually have one of two tech load outs I need to take with me. The normal load out is my MacBook, iPad, iPhone, various cables and chargers, headphones and various travel or event related paperwork. The alternate load out is all of those things plus a DSLR, usually when attending Comic Cons. For the standard load out, I've used a backpack from Mountain Hardwear Tablet.
This was a great, but simple bag that served me well for years. They stopped making that model though, so once it started showing signs of wear, I had to look elsewhere for a replacement.
Enter the ICON Slim from InCase. I did a lot of investigation online and looked around at local brick and mortar shops. I wanted to get something that is visually appealing that doesn't scream "find me a mountain to scale" or "I can live in the woods for a week" or "I'm an athlete!"
InCase makes two versions of the ICON backpack, and it's the full-size big brother to the slim that gets the rave reviews. But I had two problems with the big one: it's a good 2 inches thicker than the Tablet backpack I felt was an ideal size, and it wasn't available in Canada. As I write this, the US exchange rate is the highest it's been in a decade against the Canadian dollar, making anything and everything ordered from the USA 40%+ more expensive. Conveniently, the Apple Store in Canada carries the ICON Slim, and at a better than straight exchange rate price (possibly stock purchased and imported before the dollar really took off).
So I ordered the Slim with some trepidation and waited for it to arrive. Now that it has, it's review time!
Hmmm. I don't know if I'll be able to get as much stuff in here as I thought, or had hoped. The thing is the ICON is a very organized bag. They've got lots of pockets, in fact there's a pocket for just about everything. And the bag is divided into two main sections: front and back, with an additional slim pocket on the front. The problem with divided storage space is that the dividers themselves take up space that could otherwise be used for stuff. The upside is that when the pack isn't full, stuff doesn't just fall into a messy, potentially damaging jumble at the bottom.
From the outside, the ICON Slim looks to be about the same size as the Tablet backpack, though to keep the nice smooth lines, it has an internal structure of padding so the bag is always expanded to the max.
I have to admit that the ICON Slim is a handsome bag. The ballistic nylon is typical for a backpack but it's flawless and smooth. The stitching appears to be excellent, everything is lined up perfectly. It's a good looking bag that would be equally at home in the Board Room or the coffee shop. It's subtle and doesn't call a lot of attention to itself, nor does it particularly advertise "Apple Store inside, please steal me." My only complaint on the outside is that the straps seem to be a bit short. Sure they're adjustable, but the padded section is shorter than one might expect, not running the full length of the bag. In practice the padding is long enough to cover all contact points with your body, so it works, but feels slightly odd.
I gathered together a sample of my standard load. I added some extra items in there to really give the bag a good test, including a giant D-ring binder I store teaching notes in, and a textbook. When travelling, sometimes you want to bring an additional item or two of clothing so I grabbed a sweater and a pair of shoes.
Amazingly, the ICON swallowed it all with a minimum of fuss. A great deal of thought has gone into the pockets because they seem to all be right where you would want them. I was able to pack everything away but keep things I might need like glasses and headphones, conveniently near the top and easy to access. The front pocket is slim and should hold only papers. There's a top pocket with super-soft lining to stash a phone or anything else delicate. The front compartment opens wise at the top, but it deceptively wide all the way down. There's a lot more space In there than you might expect and pockets line the way. Behind that is the main compartment with another super-soft and padded section for your MacBook as well as an iPad in a sleeve just in front of it. The rest of the compartment is wide open, and it's where I stashed the giant D-ring binder.
Pack it all in you get a nice sleek package that is very well padded to protect all your gear, and still looks like a reasonable backpack and not a tortoise's shell.
The ICON Slim from InCase is a terrific bag. It's got ample storage space, above average padding to protect electronic gear, and well thought out pockets, all while keeping a professional profile that doesn't scream "IT support." It's above average in price as well at $169.95 CAD at the time of this review. It's available in three colours from the Apple Store. I've been using it for a couple of weeks now and it's working out well. The straps are very thickly padded, and short (as mentioned above) and will take a little break-in time to soften them up. But it looks great, carries all my stuff, and protects it at the same time. I definitely recommend it.
Update June 2019:
The ICON Slim was a solid bag that I used for quite a while. It held up amazingly well, looking like new when I stopped using it.This might make you ask: why did you stop using it then? There were a few things that I didn't like about the ICON Slim that made me pass it down to my son and look for something different. It comes down to a matter of use case.
For travel, your best bag is one with a big, open main compartment allowing maximum flexibility when packing. The ICON Slim comes with padded dividers and pockets, making it difficult to pack bulky items, including the free books you pick up at writing conferences. It's also missing a lunge strap to slide over the carry handle of a roller bag.
For every day carry, you appreciate the organization options for things like laptops, papers, cables, etc. because it distributes the load so it doesn't all just collect as a heavy lump at the bottom fo the bag. The ICON Slim did a great job with that. But for your every day carry, you're often carrying less than the maximum capacity of the bag. The semi-rigid padded frame of the ICON Slim means it maintains its shape at all times. One one hand this is good because it always looks good. On the other, it's always at maximum bulk, which makes it unnecessarily difficult to sling around.
Finally, there are no water bottle pouches on the side, something I've come to love in all my other bags, whether I'm using them to hold an umbrella, a camera monopod, or an actual water bottle.
I'd suggest this bag's best use is for every day carry when carry have a consistently large amount of gear. So for a student or commuter, this would be great. It's top-quality construction, and super comfortable to wear. If you're looking for a travel pack, there are other options that will likely be better.